Update @ 2:55 pm: WSDOT has posted a web page detailing the changes.
Original Post: The Seattle Times has the scoop on changes to new SR-520 west approach to mollify concerns that the Seattle City Council expressed in a letter earlier this month. One change that Mayor McGinn proposed to afford the ability for light rail in the future is included as well. Some of the proposed changes are:
• A direct ramp from the Washington Park Arboretum to eastbound 520 would be dropped, and other approaches could be limited to peak hours only, said Clibborn. These moves are meant to reduce Arboretum traffic and are more dramatic than what City Council members requested.
City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, as well as Paige Miller, executive director of the Arboretum Foundation, have suggested extra tolls on cars that use the Arboretum to reach the floating bridge and other moves to calm traffic.
• The section across Portage Bay, from the Montlake Interchange to Interstate 5, would be narrower and perhaps have a 45-mph speed limit, Clibborn said, to reduce noise and provide “more of a boulevard feel.” Earlier, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a standard highway segment, with a new seventh lane for merges and exits.
• A second drawbridge would be included across Montlake Cut. King County Metro Transit needs those extra lanes to improve bus connections, but a plan for better transit flow has yet to be worked out, Eddy said. Seattle leaders also have called for room for new bike and pedestrian paths.
• An open-air gap would exist between new westbound and eastbound lanes at Foster Island, a change also promoted by Mayor Mike McGinn. If light rail is added someday, trains would exit from the middle and head directly toward the stadium station, presumably on a new Union Bay bridge.
We need to see more details on the changes to get a good idea of things, and we’d like to see a “better transit flow” plan sooner rather than later. Overall, though, the city council is likely to respond positively to these changes.
The gap described in the last bullet point would make future rail more viable if region eventually wants it. Even though I’m not supportive of light rail across 520 because bus service would do a better job for the foreseeable future, I’d support changes like the gap, to hedge my analysis, if the costs were low enough. WSDOT apparently feels the costs of that particular change are low enough to include without much prodding. (I should note that our coolness on light rail over the new span is not the straw man that “it isn’t in the plans” but rather that there is no concrete destination in the Eastside suburbia to run another light rail line toward, with Bellevue and Overlake already being served by East Link. There are arguments of merit, not of process.)